Guest Michael K. Reynolds: Romancing the West!

There is tremendous irony in how popular the Western genre of Historical Romance is with today’s readers.

After all, life in the Western United States in the late 19th century was hardly the stuff romantic dreams were made of.

Sweaty saddles, dusty bedrolls, boll weevils in the breakfast bowl, horse flies feasting on your neck and only the most rudimentary levels of sanitation. Not exactly Harry Met Sally.

painting- New York Harbor about 1855 Fitz Henry Lane,American American, 1804–1865And during the Gold Rush era, romance was barely mathematically possible as there was a severe shortage of ladies in the bustling, burgeoning Barbary Coast area. The fairer sex were even scarcer in the desolate hills of the Gold Country and the few women who did reside in the region were…uh um…mostly of the working variety.

So why is it that historical novelists such as myself and well informed readers…like you…cling so tightly to the notion there is romance in the air of those Western Skies?

For me, there always was something undeniably, absolutely captivating about the wide open spaces of the West. In fact, in writing In Golden Splendor, the second novel of my Heirs of Ireland series, I discovered the landscapes themselves became a central character in the book.

They became inseparably entwined in the courtship of the story. Here are some examples:

The Emptiness

Any good romance starts with our leading lady or man with a yearning in their heart, a sense of aloneness. The great expanses of the unexplored wilderness of the West naturally provoke emotions of deep yearning, always a key to a great romance.

Even at a distance, the ribs of the great beast showed through its patchy and scarred chestnut fur. Through the barrel’s eye, Seamus tracked the young bull as it limped its way over to an aspen tree. The elk raised its head, crowned in mockery by horns uneven and fractured.

Did it catch his scent?

Then the animal relaxed, bared its teeth, and tugged on a low-lying branch, releasing a powdery mist of fresh snowfall and uncovering autumnal leaves of maroon, amber and burnt orange. Brilliant watercolor splashes on a white canvas.

In the deadly stillness of a finger pointed on a trigger, Seamus shared a kinship of loneliness and futility with his prey, whose ear flapped and jaw bulged as it chewed.

The Grandeur

FlightOfTheEarlsWhat is romance without beauty, whether it is expressed through a perfectly sculpted face or experienced in the depths of a pure heart? When it comes to landscapes of the American West there are few areas on our planet that offer as seductive a setting for an epic journey of the soul.

Can you imagine being the first to capture sights of Yosemite? Long before there were roads and campgrounds?

There spinning beneath them, breathlessly and seemingly miles below, was a valley finely tailored in a stunning cloak of white and generously covered with snow-flocked forestry. It lay at the base of a symphony of granite that reached like grateful hands up to the heavens. Tears of adoration poured freely from great waterfalls that descended with fullness, despite the lateness of the season. Behind this all, the sun lowered its head beneath the distant edge of the crucible, pouring into the sky cottony plumes of pink, rose, and rusted orange.

The Struggle

Just as the thorn to the rose, the territory of the West can prove to be the perfect villain in the story, an antagonist who challenges our heroes to the core of their being:

Now also coming into clarity was the gruesome evidence of the trail’s savagery. Lining either side of the pathway were the tragic debris of failed crossings. Sun-blanched rib cages and scattered bones of oxen, horses, mules, as well as broken wagon frames and wheels with missing spokes. Even more haunting were the discarded dolls and toys and even cribs, a reminder of how death dealt no better hands to the young.

The Ephemeral Moods

This scenery of the West as well can prove to be a treasured palette for authors, allowing us to shift emotion and moods of a story.

The harbor fog drifted in as they weaved between the ghost ships, amidst the lofting smells of dead fish, rotting wood, and mildew. The waves splashing against the hulls and moans of bending timber and strained ropes added to the eeriness of the evening. The farther they were from the shoreline, the more desolate and forbidden became this naval graveyard.

Characters of Strength

SongsOfTheShenandoahBut the rich scenery is far from the only tool of the Western-themed novelist. Also in romancing the West a writer can tap into the deep complexity and intrigue of those who would respond to such a Manifest Destiny in their lives.

What great romance awaits such complex characters!

Which is why in the blending of all of this mostly male humanity, the woman who approached appeared so extraordinary and so out of place. She was dark enough in skin color to be Mexican, but her facial features were European, with high cheeks and taut skin. Her hair flowed freely, brown and straight and nearly all the way to her glistening silver belt buckle. She glanced at Seamus with playful and alluring eyes.

Yet rather than being dressed in the bright, ornamental dresses off the painted ladies in town, she was dressed more as a man, with leather leggings, a red plaid shirt, spurred boots, and a black flat-brimmed hat. Most notably, she swayed with confidence and strength.

The Pen is Yours

What about you? What do you think makes the American West such a perfect accompaniment for romance?

One of the commenters who answers Michael’s question will win an autographed copy of his or her choice from the Heirs of Ireland series: Flight of the Earls, In Golden Splendor, or Songs of the Shenandoah. Click on the book covers above to find out more about each book. The winner will be announced Sunday evening (Aug. 23).

 

MichaelKReynolds_GoldABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael K. Reynolds’s debut novel, Flight of the Earls, about the Great Irish Potato Famine was a finalist for RT Book Reviews 2013 novel of the year award in the category of Inspirational Romance. In Golden Splendor, set during the San Francisco Gold Rush, earned fourth place as Forewords Best Historical Novel of 2013 and Songs of the Shenandoah, the Civil War-era conclusion to the trilogy was a Top Pick in RT Book Reviews, as well as a finalist for RT’s Book Reviews Book of the Year and was the Gold Award Winner as Forewords Best Historical Novel of 2014.

You can learn more about Michael at MichaelKReynolds.com. Find all of his books on his Amazon author page.

 

Guest Blogger

30 Comments

  1. I think that one way the American West became a perfect accompaniment with romance is the loneliness and hardships our ancestors faced during that time period. Many were trying to settle the old west and I’m sure those that were alone longed for someone to share it with.

    Thank you for the chance to win one of your books.

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

    countrybear52 AT yahoo DOT com

    1. Cindy…there is something about facing the struggles of life…with someone you care about that deepens the relationship and strengthens the bond.

  2. Michael, thank you for visiting Wildflower Junction today! It’s a pleasure to “meet” you and get a taste of your work.

    Your description of the brutality of the journey west was at once lyrical and tragic. With that passage, you painted a vivid picture of the cost of westward expansion.

    I wish you all the best. Visit us again sometime! 🙂

    1. Thank you for your kind words. It’s truly an honor to share some ink with this prestigious round-up of authors. Thank you for the opportunity Kathleen.

  3. Wow, Michael–such evocative descriptions of your settings! It’s wonderful to get a chance to read them and learn a bit about you. I have visited Yosemite many times over the years and I still remember the first time as a young girl being in awe of the majesty of the place. It certainly got the creative side of my brain imagining all kinds of things–how the Native Americans must have loved the area — and what an amazing testament to God’s hand on this earth. Your stories sound wonderful! Thanks for stopping by today!

    1. This particular passage I shared is JUST moments before one of the most pivotal points in the story. Yosemite was an inspiring place to include this passage…and I…like you…have magical fond memories of that place as a child.

  4. I think between the hardship, loneliness and the unknown always will make for a good romance written book. People not only were looking for a place to call home but also wanting to share all they had or all they wanted to have with someone.

    1. Kim…I totally agree. There is such a beautiful simplicity to this during that time. No smartphones, texting and rushing off for soccer practices.

  5. I like the wildness of it all. The unexpected. There really is nothing like it anymore. And it’s our history which makes it even more compelling.

  6. The American West is captivating and has an allure which is irresistible. The limitless horizons, the integrity of the individuals and the beauty and scenic vistas makes our hearts captive to this special place.

  7. The Europeans loved the West and wrote books, fell in love with the cowboys and watched the movies which depicted life in the West. They felt that this life was fascinating and unique, as do I. The west embodies truth, principles, hardship, heartbreak but freedom.

    1. The Germans in particular love Cowboy movies. At the old Ponderosa ranch in Lake Tahoe, close to where I live, there were a large number of German tourists who would visit.

  8. The mystique of the west has woven its spell upon me and I cannot escape this wonder. Whether it is the history, the land, the people and their ethics the West is meaningful and appealed to me ever since I watched the Westerns on T.V. during the 1950’s.

    1. Pearl…Rawhide was my favorite. I found the stories to be well written and the characters were strong as well.

  9. The grandeur of the West is something to behold. When I first travelled out West many years ago it made an indelible impression upon me and I knew that one day I would move to this awe-inspiring locale. Romance belongs in the West. All the songs, books and movies resonate with me.

  10. I think it was the struggles and hardships they went through and also because there always seemed like there were more men then women.

  11. Thank you for the giveaway! I think all periods are romancized because it’s easier to think of a time easier than the “current” time.

    1. Bam…and now you know why I enjoy writing historicals so much!

  12. I love western historical romance for those reasons. The western makes me think of a rough and wild era. They are a part of our history or at least they make me search out the facts of the time. Romance just seems to happen whenever there is a male and female in close contact.

  13. The ruggedness of the land and the determination of the people that lived there made the perfect backdrop for romance.

  14. Even today many areas of the West retain a rugged, wild, sometimes harsh, beauty. Not everyone appreciates it, but those who do often can find love with each other. 🙂

  15. We moved from the Northeast part of the US settled primarily by the Irish and French to Colorado. and are now living in the South. The West is a special place and we visit and explore there every chance we get. Your above descriptions are elegantly and beautifully accurate. It is a special place. There is an openness, ruggedness, and newness to it that offers possibilities that don’t seem to exist in older, in many ways, eastern part of the country. From the rugged, forested beauty of the norther Rockies to the wide open plains and harsh deserts, the land challenges one to be more than you ever were before. It is a fresh start to build the life you have dreamed. What a perfect place for two people to meet and build their lives together.

  16. As a Pennsylvania girl we moved to Yuma, Arizona when I was a teen. It was so different than what I was used to ! I have always been interested in reading historical novels and if they have some romance in them it’s even better. The West Was so different from what I Was used to with all its wide open spaces and nothing around for miles and miles . I could just imagine a woman being out there trying to make it on her own and the hardships that she would encounter. I believe she would be glad to meet a man that would help her through life and be her mate.

  17. Hi Michael! Seems I’m dragging up the rear. I couldn’t get over here yesterday. Welcome to P&P! Such a pleasure to have you here. I think the struggle is mainly why I write stories of the American frontier. Settlers faced so many obstacles–the harshness of the land, unpredictable weather, things they knew nothing (or very little about,) lawlessness, the raw loneliness that could drive a person crazy, others who wanted to take what they had…and even themselves. The West changed people. They often had to reach down into the very depths of their being and find the strength and will to survive. The West made men and women tougher. Those who didn’t perished. I love stories of struggle and writing people who had the guts to stand up to everything that was thrown at them and conquer their doubts and fears.

    Your books look amazing and you certainly have a lyrical way of writing. Thank you so much for coming. Wishing you much success in your endeavors!

  18. I live in the West and the people here are different in their outlook on the scenery, the openness and the attitudes of the inhabitants. They seem to revere the pristine setting , the wildlife and the flora of the region. It is made up old many different cultures that bring different clothing, foods, and celebrations to the place yee haw!

  19. I think it’s the simple life but hard at times. Not so many distractions.. just people trying to find the strength and will to survive whatever comes.

  20. What a wonderful post! Thanks so much for sharing and for the giveaway opportunity.

  21. Michael your books sound very real. The Old West was a rough & tumble time for all of the people trying to tame it. It was a struggle just to survive sometimes. What I have read of your post & the reviews on Amazon about your books, it sounds like you have done your homework for us to enjoy. Thank You, for the chance to win one of your books.

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